OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | An Oakland ordinance that would have gradually increased the citywide minimum wage over the next three years failed Tuesday night while bolstering the likelihood a more liberal ballot measure hoping to raise it to $12.25 will succeed this November.
The ordinance, offered by Council President Pat Kernighan, was similar to a proposal put forth by the city's business leaders. Supporters for the ballot measure to significantly bump the minimum wage from $9 to $12.25 starting in March 2015, said the ordinance was designed to undercut what is already a compromise down from $15 suggested by some earlier this year.
Kernighan, along with Councilmembers Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Larry Reid were the only votes in favor of the ordinance.
The defeat of Kernighan's proposal makes it increasingly likely Oakland's bid to raise its minimum wage at the ballot box will be successful. Recent polling shows the issue is very popular among Oakland voters. However, supporters of the ordinance said the city's growing, but fragile economy will not be able to weather the increase over such a short period of time. Even if the ordinance had passed, it would have been superseded by the competing ballot measure, if passed by voters this fall.
Several council members noted the citizen campaign led by Lift Up Oakland caught the council and its business community flat-footed after successfully attracting over 33,000 signatures for its ballot petition. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan noted the difference in the political landscape today as opposed to before the Lift Up Oakland campaign began. "A year ago, everyone would have enthusiastically supported this ordinance," she said.
Councilmember Noel Gallo, whose opposition to the ordinance was a surprise Tuesday, added, "We all dropped the ball. It's not the only issue and I'm sure it's not the first time or the last time." Unions and residents took the lead on this issue, said Gallo, and many of his colleagues, including himself, were early supporters of the ballot initiative.
Two other council members said Kernighan's proposal was merely an attempt to obfuscate the merits of the minimum wage ballot measure. "I do believe that if we pass something tonight it will be use as tactic to the beat the citizen initiative," said Councilmember Dan Kalb.
Councilmember Desley Brooks criticize the ordinance for undermining the $12.25 measure, in addition, to detractors who focused not on the plight of the working poor, but solely on business interests. "To think that it won't confuse the voters is disingenuous, at best," said Brooks. "If you were concerned with a minimum wage process, you would wait for the voters to speak in November."
Although, Quan's vote was not needed, she added to the discussion, saying she supports the ballot measure, but it still represents a yearly wage of only $25,000. "Not many of us want to live on this in this city," said Quan. But, even she sees the political reality likely coming this November. "It's pretty clear that people are going to pass it."